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Is this the road to hell? Grindhouse Review by Nick Hoffman

Planet Terror \ Death Proof – Review

When the previews for Grindhouse hit the theatres a couple months back I, and probably every one with a fond remembrance for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry was worked up. An homage to the grindhouse days of yore made by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez the modern-day high priest to the form? Riteous! Sign me up!

Grindhouse opens with a preview for Machete starring Danny Trejo, who you will remember from the earlier Rodriguez Tarantino collaboration, the hillarious From Dusk Till Dawn. The preview Machete, a story about a bad Chicano with a big blade, is so spot-on funny that you wish it weren’t just a preview.

After another cheesy seventies feature presentation graphic Rodriguez’s Planet Terror opens a Zombie movie with a military experiment veneer Planet Terror stars Freddy Rodriguez from six feet under fame is a nair do well prodigal son in a small town in Texas returning for the first time in forever. Rodriguez just happens to arrive as Bruce Willis and suspect combat troops are accidentally unleashing a nasty contagion that turns everyone it touches into, you guessed it, flesh-eating zombies. Sorry, that’s sicko’s according to the characters and the director. We also meet the local sheriff, played by Michael Biehn of Terminator and The Abyss making a blast from the past appearance, as well as local exotic dancer cherry darling played by fanboy exciter Rose McGowan.

Rose conveniently has a little accident early in the film that required the removal of her leg allowing for the silliest prosthetic replacement in film history: an M-16A-1 combo assault rifle and grenade launcher. The cast is filled out with James Brolin as a rather twisted homicidal doctor, and Jeff Fahey is a grizzled barbecue restauranteur.

The rest to the story isn’t really the point. It’s a zombie movie which means the people you haven’t met start lurching around trying to eat the people you have met, and the people you have met either exhibit new an amazing talent for killing, or they end up on the menu. Along the way Bruce Willis’s troops make a reappearance as first the good guys, and than the bad guys. All of which builds to a crescendo of death in which Cherry Darling does a gun fire dance of destruction, and Freddy Rodriguez displays martial arts skills usually show up on guys named Lee.

The intermission, probably the best part of the whole show, gives us more previews for films that don’t exist but damn, don’t you wish they did? Rob Zombie offers up the best title ever with Werewolf Women of the SS starring a ridiculously mustachioed Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu. Even better if Thanksgiving the one holiday never made as the issue of a horror movie and don’t you wish they had.

Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s final chapter in this opus, begins with a second appearance of Rose McGowan being talked into a ride with Kurt Russell at the end of a boring birthday. Her birthday does get a lot less boring, but she ends up dead in the passenger seat of a car that’s indestructible as long as you’re driving. Kirk, stuntman Mike, gets his kicks by scarring the be-Jesus out of young ladies before killing them in a wreck which you can then claim is an accident to the local authorities.

This all works fine until he bumps into Rosario Dawson from Rent and Alexander, and her two stunt women friends. After a convenient detour to check out, that is borrow, an oh so cherry Dodge Challenger, the girls and the maniac engage in the best car chase sequence since the Italian Job. When it’s done the girls get their man the man meets his maker and all is right with the world.

So why isn’t this the greatest peace of mass entertainment since Rollerball? Is it the road to hell in all its good intentions? Is it too much of a good thing? Is it not enough of anything? Personally I think it’s a problem born of the concept itself. First of all, the creators, both of them, have careers that were already built on worship of the grindhouse. So this is more of what they’ve already done. Even worse, they taken a huge big picture budget imported into the service at making a film, two films that actually that aspire to look like crap. It is so over the top in Planet Terror, it almost seems as if Rodriguez had the printers take a fork to the print before making copies. So when you should be laughing and having a great time with the obviously cheesy story, you’re just as likely to be saying yourself “Wow, they must have run this thing over with a tank”. Not good.

Then there’s the chosen subject material. The fact is that no matter what Robert Rodriguez wants to call it, Planet Terror is a zombie movie, and compared to the plethora of great zombie movies released of late, his is a lightweight. Come on 28 days later, snyder’s Dawn of the Dead even the Silly Shawn of the Dead, Planet Terror can’t sniff the rod on any of them. It takes too long to get going, and otherwise trys to carry on too many unimportant subplots especially for grindhouse fare.

Deathproof is better, but again the story takes forever to get going while Tarantino has an extreme talent for interesting dialogue he spends too much time getting to the point for this format we don’t want to know everything there is to know about stuntman Mikes first victim. We want to see her die, and get to the heroine. Quentin has us sitting around waiting for twenty minutes before he gets her dead and introduces the lead. And this in the second half of a double feature! Rule number one in grindhouse pictures is get to the point fast! Once it gets going Death Proof is a blast. Great car chase, great stunts, great quips, and characters. Until the finish. Suddenly Mike, this sick twisted homicidal maniac, is made a whimper and cry like a little girl cuz he got hurt. Sorry Quentin, it doesn’t track. Grindhouse or not, a character like this doesn’t end upcrying like a pussy. He may die, he may scream maniacally, he’d probably laugh his ass off. This is just a reversal for the sake of reversal. The ending ends up lame and hollow and really unsatisfying.

At the end the day this bill is more museum piece made on a big budget to look like it was made on the cheap great talent trying to look like a desperate work horses of yore you know you have a problem when the previews are better than the feature hey I still wanna see Machete!